One of the UK’s most versatile and inventive outdoor arts companies, Desperate Men’s mischievous, warm hearted work invites audiences to ask serious questions about the world.
“People tend to forget that play is serious” DAVID HOCKNEY
Desperate Men have been inviting people to play for over 30 years, creating, performing and producing ground-breaking outdoor theatre in the UK and internationally.
We’re always looking for new partners and projects so if you want to test the limits of our imagination (and we’re pretty sure it’s limitless), give us a call. As creative producers, we work on large-scale outdoor art projects and collaborate with other partners and arts organisations. We also create bespoke performances, street animations and education projects on commission.
Collaboration is at the heart of what we do, from working with local authorities to engage communities to setting up partnerships with other artists. We’re particularly skilled at encouraging participation from audiences and communities – even hard-to-reach ones – as you can see from the extensive local involvement in projects like Battle for the Winds and The Severn Project.
We are also adept at creating shows that respond to landscape and the environment, and at finding enterprising ways to bring subjects like science and history to life. Whether we’re persuading people to root for an eight-foot long latex sturgeon, working with an internationally renowned poet to fill the streets with words or taking 2012 torches out to sea, we always take play very seriously.
“Thanks for being so desperate for so long and so brilliantly. I didn’t realise the immensity of the canon of work and felt wistful (and delighted, intrigued, entertained and envious) to see the exhibition.”
Maria from The World Famous on the Festival of Desperation
Desperate Men has been at the forefront of outdoor arts in the UK since it was founded in 1980 in Berlin by Richie Smith and Jon Beedell. Our original manifesto laid out our intention to ‘Make mincemeat of flimsy reality’, and we leapt at the task with enthusiasm, creating innovative, anarchic, thoughtful shows in collaboration with an ever evolving pool of extraordinary performers and artists.
Our repertoire has grown to include large-scale outdoor arts commissions as well as smaller shows, but we’ve stayed true to our mission to throw the fantastic, surreal, hilarious and moving into everyday life and make people think while we’re at it; creating miniature riots, scientific comedies, riverbank festivals and even our own language (Desperanto).
We like working with people too – we’ve collaborated with Cirque Bijou, Pa-Boom, Avanti Display, Circomedia, Circus Space and Bristol Old Vic Circus School, Pervasive Media Studio, Igfest, Gloucestershire Dance, The Roses Theatre Tewkesbury, Pickled Image, The Cube Cinema, Soundbeam, Blackout Arts, Leo Bassi, Mummerandada, Kneehigh, Footsbarn, Ra Ra Zoo, Circus Burlesque, No Fit State Circus, Green Ginger, Disco Sister, Angela de Castro, Sean Gandini, Dark Horse, The World Famous Firework Company, to name but a few!
This article by Richie Smith written for the Festival of Desperation tells you a bit more about our ethos and raison d’etre.
We’ve built up a not inconsiderable list of gigs and achievements in 32 years of being Desperate Men, some of which are listed here.
ARTISTIC AND COMPANY DIRECTORS
JON BEEDELL – Artistic Director
Co-founder of the Company in 1980. Actor, Teacher, Director, Musician.
At Bradford College of Art Jon came under the influence of Albert Hunt, Welfare State, Jeff Nuttall, Roland Miller et al, and got the performing bug. He cut his teeth with the legendary Crystal Theatre in 1972-5 in UK and Holland which led to tours of Europe with Friends Roadshow, Footsbarn, Mummerandada and many others.
Jon worked, taught and directed in Portugal for many years and was on the staff at Chapito in Lisbon. He was instrumental in setting up NASA (National Association of Street Artists) and CAST (a collaborative consortium of outdoor artists in Bristol) and in developing the Quest – Battle for the Winds project for the Cultural Olympiad with Richard Headon and Cirque Bijou.
He is proud to have played piano for Vivian Stanshall’s very last tour, and to have appeared in a recent revival of Stinkfoot music – and highly embarrassed to have once played piano with a clown before a Keith Jarrett gig.
Currently artistic assessor for Arts Council England, Board member on Team West of England for Quest and Cultural Olympiad, member of steering group for the Bristol Do street arts festival; mentor for Step Up – young people’s creative producer and performer programme.
He believes that street theatre can change the world … otherwise why bother?
RICHARD HEADON – Artistic Director
Richard joined Desperate Men in 1995. Current projects include Co-Artistic Director of Battle for the Winds and Richard has previously provided artistic direction for The Severn Project (2006-09). Performance work includes Darwin and the Dodo, Rick, Dick and Vic, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and The Lighthouse, in Cirque Bijou’s Sequins and Sawdust and An Oak Tree with Tim Crouch. His installations and outdoor animations include Dancing Bear Cheese, The Eco Pirates, The Piss Pot Pirates, Kippered In …
He co-ordinated ‘What If’ a circus and street performance training week (2006) and is also a Tutor / Role Player for Bristol University Primary Health Care Dept in Communication Skills.
After gaining a B.A. (Theatre and Politics) at Rolle College, Exmouth Richard toured cabaret round Devon with ‘The Fat Cat Floorshow’. From there he worked in community touring, at The Wyvern Theatre, Swindon, pantomime at The Wilde Theatre, Bracknell and devised shows for The Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood. As a drama worker with Newham Health Authority he created cross art projects whilst with ‘The Crew’ in Bristol he created outdoor spectaculars.
Desperate Men’s composer, musician and workshop leader since 1992, including music and soundscapes for The Fountain, In The Arms of an Angel, Miracle Show, Rick, Dick and Vic – Extreme!, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the Severn Project and two Wildstreet events (street music spectaculars) as Artistic Director.
Shirley originally attended Dartington College of Arts and Exeter University, (Cert Ed), and is currently at Oxford Brookes University where after achieving a distinction in her Masters in Interdisciplinary Arts and Sonic Art and Composition she has secured AHRC research funding for a PhD programme.
She has also produced, played and composed music for many other theatre and dance companies including Circus Burlesque, Travelling Light, Pickled Image, Ra Ra Zoo, the Gandinni Juggling Project, Doo Cot Theatre, Lindsey Butcher, Angela de Castro, Disco Sisters, New English Dance, Acta Community Theatre.
Most recently Shirley has been making work for Modern Art Oxford, Audiograft (Oxford Brookes University), BEAM Festival (Brunel University) and the Festival of Desperation – Bristol.
Co – founder of the Company. Actor, Teacher, Director, Musician.
After gaining a degree in Education, and simultaneously getting involved with Jonathan Kay’s Attic Theatre, he set off around the world, but only got as far as Amsterdam. It was here that he continued his performing career with Friends Roadshow and met Jon Beedell.
As well as full on Desperation he has also worked with many other companies including Mummerandada, Kneehigh, Fortunati, Dot Comedy, Fairplay, Stickleback Plasticus and the late, great Vivian Stanshall.
He combined playing in the band with directing Circus Burlesque in their ground breaking show ‘Alice’ – which travelled to the USA for the World Theatre Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1990.
Richie’s directing talents have benefited Parachute Puppets, Le La Les, No Fit State Circus and Swamp Circus among others. He directed Green Ginger in their award winning production – ‘Bambi – The Wilderness Years’, and The World Famous and Peepolykus in the outdoor spectacular ‘Blast’.
Richie has lectured at Hereford College of Art and Design, Bath Spa University College and Bristol University.
He switched career in 2003 after re-training in Countryside Management. Currently works for Avon Wildlife Trust, plays drums with The Nightjars (available for all your functions, parties etc …) and makes cider – but continues to stay in very close touch with all things Desperate.